Knesset sanctions 2 Arab MKs for ‘denying’ Oct. 7 atrocities, alleging IDF war crimes

Lawmakers get temporary bans, pay withheld; Ra’am’s Khatib-Yassin has apologized after saying ‘they didn’t slaughter babies and they didn’t rape women’; no apology from Touma-Sliman

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Ra’am MK Iman Khatib-Yasin, in an interview with the Knesset Channel, November 5, 2023. (screenshot)
Ra’am MK Iman Khatib-Yasin, in an interview with the Knesset Channel, November 5, 2023. (screenshot)

Citing inflammatory statements, the Knesset’s Ethics Committee sanctioned two Arab lawmakers on Wednesday, temporarily banning them from Knesset hearings and votes and docking their pay.

The committee found that Ra’am MK Iman Khatib-Yassin “denied atrocities” committed by Hamas during its October 7 terror attack, and that Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Sliman undermined Israel’s legitimacy by accusing the military of committing a “war crime” during its ongoing war to uproot Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

Khatib-Yassin, who has since apologized for her remarks after being pressured by her party head to resign her seat, was banned from Knesset committee and plenum sessions for one month and had two weeks of pay stripped.

Touma-Sliman, who the committee said did not apologize and did not withdraw her statements, was barred from Knesset committee and plenum sessions for two months, and also received a two-week pay deduction.

Shortly after the Knesset screened raw footage from October 7 attacks, which Khatib-Yassin said she declined to watch, the lawmaker told the Knesset Channel on November 5, “They didn’t slaughter babies and they didn’t rape women, at least not in the footage.”

The lawmaker added: “If it happened, it’s shameful… If it had happened.”

Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Sliman speaks at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on the approval of budgetary transfers in the education system, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, September 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas urged Khatib-Yassin to step down. She has not done so, but issued an apology for the comments she made during the interview.

“I made a mistake, I am sorry and I apologize,” Khatib-Yassin wrote in a statement. “I had no intention to minimize or deny the horrifying massacre of October 7 and the terrible acts against women, babies, or the elderly who were killed in the south.”

Hours after the Ethics Committee’s Wednesday decision, the Knesset screened for a second time raw footage from Hamas’s October 7 rampage across southern Israel, a spokesperson for Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana said. Khatib-Yassin, who along with a group of lawmakers requested that Ohana arrange a repeat showing, was present for the screening, the spokesperson said.

The request for a second screening came following an effort by two Likud lawmakers to expel Khatib-Yassin from the parliament. The longshot move has yet to move past its first stage.

In its Wednesday decision, the Ethics Committee wrote that atrocity denial by “an official public representative of the State of Israel who receives her salary as a public representative is a very serious matter that amounts to a serious ethical violation.”

Khatib-Yassin did not respond to The Times of Israel’s request for comment.

Touma-Sliman, by contrast, wrote on X on November 11 that, according to reports, Israel had bombed hospital operating rooms and was shooting Gazans trying to evacuate from north to south Gaza through prearranged humanitarian corridors.

“Testimonies from Shifa Hospital: bombed operating rooms, the smell of phosphorus in the air, of 48 surgeons 7 remain, live shooting of the displaced ‘in the humanitarian corridors,'” she wrote.

“And they still insist: the ‘most moral army in the world’ does not harm innocents and does not attack hospitals!” she continued.

The Israel Defense Forces has denied firing upon civilians in humanitarian corridors, asserting that Hamas has done so at times in order to discourage their evacuation. Israel maintains it uses the incendiaries only as a smokescreen and not to target civilians. The Israeli military said in a statement to the Associated Press earlier this month that the main type of smokescreen shells it uses “do not contain white phosphorous.” The IDF did not rule out white phosphorus use in some situations, the AP said.

Issuing its decision, the Ethics Committee wrote that “an MK accusing the IDF of a war crime contributes to the efforts of the enemies of the State of Israel to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel, whether intentionally or not,” and noted its “regret” that Touma-Sliman did not retract her remarks.

The committee wrote that Touma-Sliman defended her remarks as both free speech and a reiteration of reports. The committee noted that “she also expressed her conclusion” by making a judgment on the morality of the IDF.

Shortly after the sanctions announcement, Touma-Sliman’s Hadash-Ta’al party accused the Ethics Committee of conducting a political witch hunt against Arab Israelis.

“Excluding MK Aida Touma-Sliman from Knesset deliberations is a McCarthyist political decision that strengthens a persecution campaign [carried out] by right-wing extremists against Arab society and its political representatives,” Hadash-Ta’al, a majority Arab faction that includes a Communist party, wrote in statement.

Hadash-Ta’al continued that Touma-Sliman “spoke out within the framework of the freedom of political expression to which every Knesset member is entitled” and “there is no ethical problem with MK Touma-Sliman’s remarks.”

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